Life unworthy of life

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The phrase "life unworthy of life" (in German : "Lebensunwertes Leben") was a Nazi designation for the segments of the populace which, according to the Nazi regime of the time, had no right to live. Those individuals were targeted to be euthanized by the state, usually through the compulsion or deception of their caretakers. The term included people with serious medical problems and those considered grossly inferior according to the racial policy of Nazi Germany. This concept formed an important component of the ideology of Nazism and eventually helped lead to the Holocaust. [1] It is similar to but more restrictive than the concept of "Untermensch", subhumans, as not all "subhumans" were considered unworthy of life (Slavs, for instance, were deemed useful for slave labor).

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

The right to life is a moral principle based on the belief that a human being has the right to live and, in particular, should not be killed by another human being. The concept of a right to life arises in debates on issues of capital punishment, war, abortion, euthanasia, justifiable homicide, animal welfare and public health care. Various individuals who identify with pro-life views may disagree on which areas this principle applies, including such issues previously listed.

Involuntary euthanasia occurs when euthanasia is performed on a person who would be able to provide informed consent, but does not, either because they do not want to die, or because they were not asked.

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The euthanasia program was officially adopted in 1939 and came through the personal decision of Adolf Hitler. It grew in extent and scope from Aktion T4 ending officially in 1941 when public protests stopped the program, through the Action 14f13 against concentration camp inmates. The euthanasia of people with disabilities continued more discreetly until the end of World War II. The methods used initially at German hospitals such as lethal injections and bottled gas poisoning were expanded to form the basis for the creation of extermination camps where the gas chambers were built from scratch to conduct the extermination of the Jews, Poles, and Romani. [2] [3] [4]

Adolf Hitler Leader of Germany from 1934 to 1945

Adolf Hitler was a German politician and leader of the Nazi Party. He rose to power as Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and later Führer in 1934. During his dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland in September 1939. He was closely involved in military operations throughout the war and was central to the perpetration of the Holocaust.

<i>Aktion T4</i> Nazi Germanys "euthanasia programme" with 275,000–300,000 victims

Aktion T4 was a postwar name for mass murder through involuntary euthanasia in Nazi Germany. The name T4 is an abbreviation of Tiergartenstraße 4, a street address of the Chancellery department set up in the spring of 1940, in the Berlin borough of Tiergarten, which recruited and paid personnel associated with T4. Certain German physicians were authorized to select patients "deemed incurably sick, after most critical medical examination" and then administer to them a "mercy death". In October 1939, Adolf Hitler signed a "euthanasia note", backdated to 1 September 1939, which authorized his physician Karl Brandt and Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler to implement the programme.

Action 14f13 campaign of the Third Reich to murder Nazi concentration camp prisoners

Action 14f13, also called "Sonderbehandlung14f13" and Aktion 14f13, was a campaign by Nazi Germany to terminate Nazi concentration camp prisoners. Also called invalid or prisoner euthanasia, the campaign culled the sick, elderly and those deemed no longer fit for work, from the rest of the prisoners in a selection process, after which they were killed. The Nazi campaign was in operation from 1941 to 1944 and later covered other groups of concentration camp prisoners.

History

The expression first appeared in print via the title of a 1920 book, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens (Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life) by two professors, the jurist Karl Binding (retired from the University of Leipzig) and psychiatrist Alfred Hoche from the University of Freiburg. [5] According to Hoche, some living people who were brain damaged, intellectually disabled, autistic (though not recognized as such at the time), and psychiatrically ill were "mentally dead", "human ballast" and "empty shells of human beings". Hoche felt killing such people was useful. Some people were simply considered disposable. [6] Later the killing was extended to people considered 'racially impure' or 'racially inferior' according to Nazi thinking. [7]

Karl Binding German jurist

Karl Ludwig Lorenz Binding was a German jurist known as a promoter of the theory of retributive justice. His influential book, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens, written together with the psychiatrist Alfred Hoche, was used by the Nazis to justify their T-4 Euthanasia Program.

Alfred Hoche German psychiatrist

Alfred Erich Hoche was a German psychiatrist well known for his writings about eugenics and euthanasia.

University of Freiburg Public research university in Freiburg, Germany

The University of Freiburg, officially the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, is a public research university located in Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The university was founded in 1457 by the Habsburg dynasty as the second university in Austrian-Habsburg territory after the University of Vienna. Today, Freiburg is the fifth-oldest university in Germany, with a long tradition of teaching the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. The university is made up of 11 faculties and attracts students from across Germany as well as from over 120 other countries. Foreign students constitute about 18.2% of total student numbers.

The concept culminated in Nazi extermination camps, instituted to systematically kill those who were unworthy to live according to Nazi ideologists. It also justified various human experimentation and eugenics programs, as well as Nazi racial policies.

Nazi human experimentation was a series of medical experiments on large numbers of prisoners, including children, by Nazi Germany in its concentration camps in the early to mid 1940s, during World War II and the Holocaust. Chief target populations included Romani, Sinti, ethnic Poles, Soviet POWs, disabled Germans, and Jews from across Europe.

Nazi eugenics Nazi Germanys racially based social policies that placed the improvement of the Aryan race or Germanic

Nazi eugenics were Nazi Germany's racially based social policies that placed the biological improvement of the Aryan race or Germanic "Übermenschen" master race through eugenics at the center of Nazi ideology. In Germany, eugenics were mostly known under the synonymous term racial hygiene. Following the Second World War, both terms effectively vanished and were replaced by Humangenetik.

Development of the concept

This poster (from around 1938) reads: "60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People's community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read '[A] New People', the monthly magazine of the Bureau for Race Politics of the NSDAP." EuthanasiePropaganda.jpg
This poster (from around 1938) reads: "60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People's community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read '[A] New People', the monthly magazine of the Bureau for Race Politics of the NSDAP."

According to the author of Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, the policy went through a number of iterations and modifications:

A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in psychiatry, the branch of medicine devoted to the diagnosis, prevention, study, and treatment of mental disorders. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, unlike psychologists, and must evaluate patients to determine whether their symptoms are the result of a physical illness, a combination of physical and mental ailments, or strictly psychiatric. A psychiatrist usually works as the clinical leader of the multi-disciplinary team, which may comprise psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and nursing staff. Psychiatrists have broad training in a bio-psycho-social approach to assessment and management of mental illness.

Robert Jay Lifton American psychiatrist and author

Robert Jay Lifton is an American psychiatrist and author, chiefly known for his studies of the psychological causes and effects of wars and political violence and for his theory of thought reform. He was an early proponent of the techniques of psychohistory.

Of the five identifiable steps by which the Nazis carried out the principle of "life unworthy of life," coercive sterilization was the first. There followed the killing of "impaired" children in hospitals; and then the killing of "impaired" adults, mostly collected from mental hospitals, in centers especially equipped with carbon monoxide gas. This project was extended (in the same killing centers) to "impaired" inmates of concentration and extermination camps and, finally, to mass killings in the extermination camps themselves. [1]

Nazi concentration camps concentration camp operated by Nazi Germany

Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps throughout the territories it controlled before and during the Second World War. The first Nazi camps were erected in Germany in March 1933 immediately after Hitler became Chancellor and his Nazi Party was given control of the police by Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick and Prussian Acting Interior Minister Hermann Göring. Used to hold and torture political opponents and union organizers, the camps initially held around 45,000 prisoners. In 1933–1939, before the onset of war, most prisoners consisted of German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and persons accused of 'asocial' or socially 'deviant' behavior by the Germans.

See also

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Karl Brandt German Nazi physician

Karl Brandt was a German physician and Schutzstaffel (SS) officer in Nazi Germany. Trained in surgery, Brandt joined the Nazi Party in 1932 and became Adolf Hitler's escort doctor in August 1934. A member of Hitler's inner circle at the Berghof, he was selected by Philipp Bouhler, the head of Hitler's Chancellery, to administer the Aktion T4 euthanasia program. Brandt was later appointed the Reich Commissioner of Sanitation and Health. Accused of involvement in human experimentation and other war crimes, Brandt was indicted in late 1946 and faced trial before a U.S. military tribunal along with 22 others in United States of America v. Karl Brandt, et al. He was convicted, sentenced to death, and later hanged on 2 June 1948.

A gas chamber is an apparatus for killing humans or other animals with gas, consisting of a sealed chamber into which a poisonous or asphyxiant gas is introduced. The most commonly used poisonous agent is hydrogen cyanide; carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide have also been used. Gas chambers were used as a method of execution for condemned prisoners in the United States beginning in the 1920s and continue to be a legal execution method in three states. During the Holocaust, large-scale gas chambers designed for mass killing were used by Nazi Germany as part of their genocide program. The use of gas chambers in North Korea has also been reported.

Viktor Brack SS officer

Viktor Hermann Brack was a German Nazi war criminal, an organiser of the euthanasia programme Action T4, where the Nazi state systematically murdered over 70,000 disabled German and Austrian people. Following this, Brack was one of the men responsible for the gassing of Jews in the extermination camps, and he conferred with Odilo Globocnik about the practical implementation of the Final Solution. Brack was sentenced to death in 1947 and executed in 1948.

Christian Wirth Nazi German police chief, extermination camp commandant, Holocaust perpetrator

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Ernst-Robert Grawitz German general

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Paul Nitsche German psychiatrist

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Hadamar Euthanasia Centre

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Ewald Meltzer was a German director of an asylum in Saxony whose work had an influence on the Nazis to justify their T-4 Euthanasia Program.

Sonnenstein Euthanasia Centre

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Hartheim Euthanasia Centre

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Brandenburg Euthanasia Centre

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Bernburg Euthanasia Centre

The Nazi Euthanasia Centre at Bernburg operated from 21 November 1940 to 30 July 1943 in a separate wing of the State Sanatorium and Mental Hospital in Bernburg on the River Saale in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. It was one of several euthanasia centres run by the Nazis under their official "Euthanasia Programme", later referred to after the war as Action T4. A total of 9,384 sick and handicapped people from 33 welfare institutions and nursing homes as well as around 5,000 prisoners from six concentration camps were killed here in a gas chamber using carbon monoxide gas.

<i>T4-Gutachter</i>

The T4-Gutachter were medical experts who were employed by the Zentraldienststelle-T4 to organize and carry out the Action T4 "euthanasia" program in Nazi Germany. Based on reporting forms with information about the mentally ill and disabled, they decided who would be the victims killed by gas in "euthanasia" centers. An internal document from the organization T4 shows a list of 40 physicians who were among those who worked for Action T4.

The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide was written by Robert Jay Lifton and published in 1986, analyzing the role of German doctors in carrying out a genocide. From the viewpoint of a psychiatrist, Lifton dove into detail covering the medical procedures occurring before and during the Holocaust. The book consists of three parts, each with chapters, and recounts the events that led to the holocaust, as well as members that formed part of it. Euthanasia was the term used by the Nazis to describe their killings that had purpose, in reality they committed a genocide. Lifton explores the paradoxical theme of healing killing in which one race was healed by eliminating another; a concept that many used to morally justify their actions. Throughout the book, Lifton provides quotes from interviews he conducted with SS doctors and with victims. In that manner, he is able to retell the story from both sides, and later provide a psychiatric analysis on the manner in which the doctors were able to carry out their experiments.

References

  1. 1 2 http://phdn.org/archives/holocaust-history.org/lifton/LiftonT021.shtml The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide] by Dr. Robert Jay Lifton (holocaust-history.org)
  2. The Gypsies of Eastern Europe, David Crowe, John Kolsti, Ian Hancock, Routledge, 22 Jul 2016, pg31
  3. Henry Friedlander (1995), The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution. University of North Carolina Press, p. 163.
  4. Suzanne E. Evans. Forgotten crimes: the Holocaust and people with disabilities. p. 93. ISBN   1566635659.
  5. Cover of Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens (Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life) at German Wikipedia.
  6. Dr S D Stein, "Life Unworthy of Life" and other Medical Killing Programmes. UWE Faculty of Humanities, Languages, and Social Science – via Internet Archive.
  7. Robert Jay Lifton (September 21, 1986). "German Doctors and the Final Solution". The New York Times.